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UN Public Service Award honours water supply initiative in Gujarat, India

© UNICEF India/2009/WASMO
A village resident draws water from a house connection provided by the Water and Sanitation Management Organization in Gujarat, India.

By Gurinder Gulati

GUJARAT, India, 13 May 2009 – The air was charged with excitement in the office of the Water and Sanitation Management Organization (WASMO) after the recent announcement that it had won the prestigious UN Public Service Award for ‘fostering participation in policy-making decisions through innovative mechanisms.’

The award for 2009 will be formally presented in a ceremony at UN headquarters in New York next month.

“The day is not far when Gujarat will turn the corner by becoming a water-secure state, from a water scarce state,” said Dr. Yogendra Mathur, Chief of Field Office for UNICEF Gujarat, which is supporting WASMO’s efforts.

A model of innovation
WASMO has come a long way since 2002, when it was established by the Government of Gujarat to facilitate decentralized, community-driven water supply and sanitation programmes in rural areas.

What began amidst concerns about water scarcity in the state – and the need to ensure a sustainable drinking-water supply – has evolved into a model of innovation driven by community involvement in villages across Gujarat.

“WASMO began its work … in 82 villages in Bhavnagar District. Today, we are proud to have expanded this innovation to more than 14,000 villages,” said WASMO Project Director R.K. Sama. “By empowering communities to mange their local water sources, drinking-water supply and environmental sanitation, our mission is to work towards drinking-water security and habitat improvement.”

© UNICEF India/2009/WASMO
WASMO stresses community involvement to assess local needs and plan water projects.

A ‘Pani Samiti’ – a local committee on water and sanitation – is a pre-requisite for WASMO to help provide a sustainable water supply system in a village. Because women are the most affected by lack of access to safe water, WASMO has made special efforts to involve them in the day-to-day functioning of the Pani Samitis. As a result, 2,800 Pani Samitis are headed by women, and around 42,700 women are members of these committees.

Meeting community need
The hallmark of WASMO’s work is creating a genuine demand for water management solutions that are specific to community needs. The organization has adopted a variety of technologies to provide safe water in rural areas – all with the ultimate aim of improving services and encouraging local residents to sustain the systems.

WASMO uses participatory planning to assess villages’ specific water needs. Intensive information, education and communication activities – including street theatre, school programmes, women’s activities and ‘Gram Sabhas’, or village meetings – raise awareness of the importance of community-managed water supply systems.

Since these innovations began, more than 4,000 villages have completed installation of improved water supply systems, with 90 per cent of them opting for house-to-house water connections. Another 3,000 villages’ systems are in various stages of completion. To date, the government has invested $177 million for implementation of water supply schemes through WASMO, while the communities themselves have contributed $17 million.

© UNICEF India/2009/WASMO
Women members of the ‘Pani Samiti’, or village water committee, familiarize themselves with water supply schemes displayed on the notice board in a village in Gujarat.

“By end of 2008, every second rural home had a water connection at their doorstep, and by 2011 it is expected that two out of three rural households will have the same facility,” said WASMO Chief Executive Officer Dr. Jaipal Singh.

NGO and private-sector partners
To facilitate the process of social mobilization and empowerment that equips each community to own and maintain its water supply, WASMO has partnered with 75 non-governmental organizations and other civil society groups. Private Indian companies have also joined hands with WASMO to support water projects in areas adjacent to their factories and beyond.

UNICEF has worked closely with WASMO from the start, providing technical assistance and building the capacity of its personnel and support agencies.

“Our hope is that by 2012, all the 18,062 villages in the state will have a community-owned and managed, safe and sustainable drinking-water supply system,” said the WASMO Project Manager, Mr. Sama. Besides improving water security, he added, these systems will “free women from the drudgery of fetching water from far-flung areas to meet the needs of their families.”



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